Giants vs. 49ers: 7 Players Who Will Secure San Francisco Victory
The Giants are a very good team, however. They have vastly improved since the last time these two teams met in Week 10 of the regular season. They are healthier and have gathered some momentum heading into this matchup.
It will take a team effort for the 49ers to win, much like the performance they put together against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Round game.
However, here's a list of seven 49ers who will guarantee a 49ers victory, provided that they are all on the top of their game.
Honorable Mention: Andy Lee
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It wasn't too long ago that San Francisco 49ers fans were chanting "Andy Lee, MVP". Those were dark and depressing days when the punter was the best player on the team.
However, he is still one of, if not the most dangerous weapon on the 49ers' roster.
The 49ers live and die by playing the field advantage game. The offense isn't capable of consistently sustaining long scoring drives, so it depends on good starting field position to get the offense rolling.
One way they do that is by playing constricting defense and forcing the opponents to punt from deep in their own territory, but that starts and ends with Lee.
He has the ability to pin offenses deep in their territory, and he can do it on a consistent basis. It sounds funny, but this team's success is contingent on Lee's ability to consistently give the opposing offense less-than-desirable starting positions.
This game will be a defensive struggle, so the 49ers will depend on Lee being able to pin the Giants deep on a consistent basis and make them drive the entire length of the field to score. If they give Eli Manning a short field to work with, the game could get out of hand.
7. NaVorro Bowman
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Either Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman would be an acceptable option here. Both were selected to the All-Pro team, but I'm going to go with Bowman for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the New York Giants' running game isn't the same as it was when the 49ers played them in Week 10. Ahmad Bradshaw was out with an injury, and the Giants' running game is just now starting to get on track.
The Giants are going to try and establish the running game early in order to set up the play action, and it's imperative that Bowman and the rest of the front seven shut that down. The offensive line is likely going to direct its attention to blocking Willis if/once they get to the second level, so that should leave Bowman free to make some plays.
Secondly, if the Giants are going to want to incorporate passing to their tight end, Jake Ballard, into their game plan, Willis might be the one to slide over and cover him. Willis has excelled in pass coverage this year, so it would be an interesting strategy to completely eliminate Eli Manning's security blanket in Ballard.
It might be Donte Whitner's job to shadow the tight end, but that defensive strategy remains to be seen.
6. Dashon Goldson (Both Safeties)
The outstanding play from the two 49ers safeties, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, was the most under-appreciated aspect from the previous game against the New Orleans Saints.
They set the tone of the game early and let Drew Brees and company know that the game was going to be physical and hard-fought.
Whitner's hit on Pierre Thomas on the first drive was the play of the game on defense. If he doesn't make that tackle, Pierre dances into the end zone and everyone on the 49ers sideline begins to worry that the defense truly can't stop the Saints' high-powered offense.
However, not only does Whitner lay the lumber down on Thomas, he forces the fumble and knocks Thomas out of the game. Who knows what would've happened if the Saints went up 7-0 after scoring on their first possession. I easily think the game could've had a much different outcome if the Saints didn't go down 17-0 in the first half.
Whitner and Goldson will need to have a similar impact on the game in order to contain the Giants' potent passing attack. Hitting receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz when they go over the middle is a must.
5. Kyle Williams
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In a game where field position might decide the game, Kyle Williams instantly becomes one of the key players for the 49ers.
With Ted Ginn Jr. listed as questionable on the injury report, Williams might need to step up and be the return man.
Even though Ginn has been instrumental for the 49ers on special teams this year, Williams is no slouch. He had a few nice returns against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 and proved that he can do more than just handle the load.
Outside of being the kick and punt returner, Williams will also need to step up and make some plays at wide receiver. He only made two catches for 12 yards against the New Orleans Saints last weekend. More will be expected from him against the Giants' weak secondary, especially if Ginn misses the game.
4. Tarrell Brown
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If there is one matchup to look for during this game, it will be cornerback Tarrell Brown lining up against Hakeem Nicks: the New York Giants' star receiver.
Nicks is big, physical, and wasn't much of a factor against the 49ers during the regular season. He did catch a touchdown pass late in the game, but injuries prevented him from doing much more than that.
Matt Maiocco has reported that Carlos Rogers will be lining up against Victor Cruz the majority of the game, which means Brown will be shadowing Nicks.
If you're a Giants fan, it's hard not to like this matchup. There are few corners who can handle the size and speed that Nicks possesses. The fact that he made seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns against Charles Woodson, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, certainly drives that point home.
Brown has played exceptionally well this year, however, and even intercepted Drew Brees in the NFC Division game. He also picked off four passes during the regular season.
The outcome of the game could largely depend on who wins this individual matchup, but I think Brown will be able to hold his own.
3. Joe Staley (Both Offensive Tackles)
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The matchup to watch this game could be left tackle Joe Staley lining up against Osi Umenyiora, the right defensive end on the New York Giants.
Joe Staley was selected to the Pro Bowl this year, and has been the unit's best lineman for the majority of the year.
However, Umenyiora beat Staley when the two teams played each other in the regular season, and now it seems he has gathered some momentum heading into this game. He has recorded five sacks in his last three games, including two against the Green Bay Packers last weekend.
Staley will need to slow down Umenyiora in order for the 49ers to move the ball on offense.
Giving San Francisco 49ers quarterback ample time to make his reads will be key. The Giants are going to try and supply pressure by only rushing four, so that means Smith will need more time to find windows with seven defenders dropping back into coverage.
The same goes for Anthony Davis, the right offensive tackle for the 49ers. He'll be lining up against Justin Tuck: another premier pass-rusher on the Giants defensive line.
2. Alex Smith
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When the San Francisco 49ers have asked Alex Smith to step up and win games on his own, he has done so almost every time this season.
Whether the 49ers needed to drive down field field late in the game to score, or if the game plan was simply constructed around Smith throwing the ball, he has come through.
I have been preaching this all season long, and the entire country finally saw what I was talking about after his performance against the New Orleans Saints last weekend. That outing was one of the most clutch quarterback performances in the history of the playoffs. No quarterback has ever led two game-winning touchdown drives in the final three minutes of the game, let alone both of them being over 80-yards long.
The 49ers will also need Smith to do the same against the New York Giants. He was able to efficiently pass against the Giants' secondary during the regular season, so it'll be interesting to see if the they respect his capabilities a little more this time around.
1. Justin Smith
Justin Smith is the main reason why the San Francisco 49ers defense has been as good as it has this season. And it's largely because he impacts the game on every single play.
He is constantly taking on double teams on running plays which enable his teammates to make a play on the running back. He sometimes is able to make a play on the ball carrier himself despite being double teamed, which is simply hard to fathom.
He also possesses one of the most powerful bull rushes in the NFL, as evident by this play against the Saints' Jermon Bushrod last weekend.
He makes pushing a 315-pound offensive lineman backwards look so easy and effortless.
The greatest thing about Smith is that he never takes a play off. He and Patrick Willis are the two players on defense who play all three downs.
Having Smith rush Eli Manning on every passing play will allow the 49ers to drop seven back into coverage and force Manning to throw into tighter windows.